May 13, 2009

Talent-Rich Toronto Loads up on Canadians

This article appears in the May issue of Lacrosse Magazine. Don't get the mag? Join US Lacrosse today to start your monthly subscription and help fuel the growth of the game.

by Corey McLaughlin | Special to Lacrosse Magazine Online

The Nationals added to their Canadian-rich roster this week by trading with the Denver Outlaws for faceoff specialist Geoff Snider, the MVP of the 2006 world championships for Team Canada.

© Trevor Brown

When discussing Major League Lacrosse's newest franchise -- the Toronto Nationals -- it's important to make a distinction between Nationals, with a capital N, and the national team, as in the Canadian outdoor squad that heads to the 2010 Federation of International Lacrosse (FIL) World Championships as the defending gold-medal winners. Because beyond the spelling there are many notable similarities between the two.

The parallels begin with ownership and management. Stu Brown, the first president and general manager of the Toronto Nationals (capital N), will be the executive director of the Canadian national team (lower-case n) for its effort at the next FIL championships in Manchester, England. Brown and the Nationals ownership group will be heavily involved in fundraising and operations of the national team as it continues to push for field success.

The trend continues with lacrosse fixture Dave Huntley, who in early March was announced as the Nationals' first head coach. The Toronto native is a multiple-time member of the Team Canada coaching staff and will lead the team in England, according to Brown.

And then there are the Nationals players, a good number of whom have been national players and figure to be again. Guys like Brodie Merrill, Gavin Prout, Colin Doyle, Jeff Zywicki, John Grant Jr. and Jordan Hall are now Nationals with national team experience. They come from the defunct Rochester Rattlers, last year's MLL champions and a franchise that was relocated to Toronto during an offseason shakeup that saw league reduced from 10 to six teams.

The Nationals make their debut Friday when they visit the Washington Bayhawks at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium in Annapolis, Md., in the MLL's season-opener.

In the offseason, teams in Los Angeles, San Francisco, New Jersey and the traveling Barrage were eliminated. The core of Rochester's roster was spared when Brown, who was working with colleagues on the proposal to manage Team Canada, suddenly considered the benefits of sustaining the Canadian group by bringing an outdoor professional team to Toronto.

"We had looked at the national program and the MLL team, and it just came together and made a lot of sense," Brown said. "There were tons of synergies between the two. That being said, there's no direct relationship. You don't have to play on the Nationals to be eligible for the Canadian team, but there's a logical connection that people will draw in terms of developing players for the worlds."

The Nationals' preseason roster looks more like that of an indoor National Lacrosse League team than your normal outdoor MLL franchise. It's heavily Canadian, including some players with limited or no MLL experience. The presence of an outdoor team in Toronto reduces obstacles for indoor box players from the area who may have not played the professional field game before. Namely, there is little travel to the six scheduled home games at BMO Field.

Among the highest-profile additions who will try to transition outdoors in Toronto are Mark Steenhuis, the multiple-time NLL All-Star Game MVP, and Dan Dawson, another NLL all-star. There are a handful of others who may attempt the same.

"With all the talented players that are within driving distance of Toronto, whether they have played outdoor before or not, to have the ability to get some of those guys if they are interested and able, and have them play in a great league with some great players can only help them with regard to 2010," Huntley said.

But the Nationals' effort is not just all about helping Canadians. In the future, the Nationals hope to feature more local Iroquois national team players who come from the Six Nations reserves southeast of Toronto. The Iroquois team is part of the competition at the FIL World Championships, but Brown hopes Iroquois players -- like Brett Bucktooth, who also comes over from Rochester, and 2008 NLL Rookie of the Year Craig Point, who is on the Nationals' preseason roster -- will blend with the potential future members of Team Canada who are also members of the Nationals.

Case in point: When the Nationals team logo was unveiled in February, it included a maple leaf along with the Iroquois insignia. The team slogan, "Two nations, one team" also was introduced.

"You have guys that live in Six Nations and the greater Toronto area that live a half-hour away from each other," Brown said. "You've got some of the best and most dynamic players coming out of those communities, and it would be great to see them playing on the same field. Zack Greer, Cody Jamieson and Sid Smith in the future - guys like that. It would be a great product."

Said Huntley: "It's a good situation to be in as a coach when you have the ability to attract guys from Ontario. Whether they are guys who might play for the U.S. team in 2010 or the Canadian team, or Iroquois or the Korean team, I really don't care. We're going to have the 23 guys that we think are going to give us the best chance to have success."

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